Providing local produce at corner stores in East St. Louis

June 3, 2022

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. -- Families across Illinois struggle with access to healthy foods. Many people rely on small stores within walking distances of their homes to purchase groceries. Corner stores often do not offer fresh produce or have very limited options.  Illinois Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education collaborates with community leaders to create better access to fresh foods for communities in need.

East St. Louis is home to approximately 26,000 people. The city’s median household income is around $24,000, with 33.4% of residents falling below the poverty line. 86% of low-income residents in East St. Louis with most public housing living about 2.96 miles from a grocery store, and 31% of households in East St. Louis do not have a vehicle, creating an additional barrier to obtaining fresh foods.  

Local Foods, Local Places helps cities and towns across the country to improve access to healthy food by engaging with local partners to develop local food systems.  Grace Margherio, an Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms educator, working with LFLP applied for technical assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency and was awarded a grant in May of 2021. Margherio and Joey Fonseca-Islas, a SNAP-Ed educator, created a steering committee to plan community workshops and develop a community action plan to develop local food systems in East St. Louis. The goals for these workshops were to increase local food production through programming and community gardens, increase access to fresh foods, and to empower local residents to live healthier lives. SNAP-Ed staff helped recruit stakeholders and community members for the workshop.  They also followed up on ideas discussed after the workshop to collaborate with community gardens, corner stores, and map assets in East St. Louis to partner with in hosting a Juneteenth Health Fair.  

Through these events, SNAP-Ed staff connected Margherio with a local corner store called Bond Avenue Fish and Poultry to ask if it would be possible for them to stock fresh produce. They shared that stocking produce was difficult for them because traditional produce suppliers only allow them to purchase items in large quantities. To make produce more accessible to the community surrounding the store, Margherio connected Bond Avenue with gardens in Jones Park run by Extension in St. Clair County. The growing season is currently in progress and the community will be able to purchase fresh produce from the store such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and greens in the coming months.

ABOUT SNAP-ED: Making healthy choices is not always easy, especially when families are struggling financially. University of Illinois SNAP-Ed provides practical healthy eating and physical activity solutions for Illinois families and participates in strategic local, regional, and statewide partnerships to transform the health of Illinois communities. SNAP-Ed is provided by University of Illinois Extension. In the city of Chicago, SNAP-Ed is led by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

SOURCES: Joey Fonseca-Islas, SNAP-Ed Educator, University of Illinois Extension
Grace Margherio, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension

WRITER: Rebecca Nicol, Publicity-Promotion Associate, University of Illinois Extension